Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Lullaby: Revisiting Ru by Kim Thúy

As part of my pandemic retrospective look at contemporary classics*, I’ve fallen back in awe of the lyricism of the novel Ru by Kim Thúy, a collection of non-linear vignettes that read like prose poetry, like we’re one with the narrator sailing on a 1975 refugee boat from South Vietnam into uncertainty with the gracious world view of a child, carried by her cadence of flowing sentences and imagery. It was first published with Libre Expression in 2009, won the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction in 2010 and was translated exquisitely to English by Sheila Fischman in 2012, where it went on to be nominated for further prestigious Canadian literary awards.

“The lullaby mood of the book is felt throughout as juxtaposition is woven seamlessly in euphonic sentences vivid with consonance and colour, sprinkled with onomatopoeia, the repetition of hard “k” drumming heights of acoustic texture folded into an overall nuance of being cradled and rocked in a rhythmic memoir.”

Thúy opens with an explanation of the title, “In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge – of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull.” With this in mind, Thúy’s words lull the reader through the heartache of displacement and loss with unique detail that creates a presence of place, often a place of between, a song of humanity. Her firsthand experience living with her family as a Vietnamese refugee in a Malaysian camp designed for 200 but housing 2000 and then starting a new life in Montreal resonates through the narrator’s nurturing notes, comforting even in grief.

The lullaby mood of the book is felt throughout as juxtaposition is woven seamlessly in euphonic sentences vivid with consonance and colour, sprinkled with onomatopoeia, the repetition of hard “k” drumming heights of acoustic texture folded into an overall nuance of being cradled and rocked in a rhythmic memoir. “I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns. I first saw the light of day in Saigon, where firecrackers, fragmented into a thousand shreds, coloured the ground red like the petals of cherry blossoms or like the blood of two million soldiers deployed and scattered throughout the villages and cities of a Vietnam that had been ripped in two,” Thúy writes, her landscape of sound and colour holding the tension and grief of human experience amid natural and cultural beauty still clinging to existence, diction like “fragmented” setting the inner and outer experience tempered by a lullaby tempo. It’s fluid how her similes for red embody both cherry petals and the sacrificial blood of so many lost lives as we feel for fallen humans on both sides, for those who volunteered to fight and die for what they believed was best for humanity and those who had no choice. Thúy brilliantly doesn’t mention the nationalities of the soldiers, only that their blood permeates the soil in her vision “coloured the ground red,” so that each reader can bring their own empathy to the story. Her choice to use just the noun “soldiers” and a collective number in with the colour red, both cherry petals and blood, connects emotionally with each reader in an individual way as we grieve being a species that allows wars to happen. Much like poetry, each phrase connects individually with readers to bring them into her overall unifying theme, a lullaby for the universal heartache of war.

“I was born in the shadow of skies adorned with fireworks, decorated with garlands of light, shot through with rockets and missiles,” she continues, contrast in each part of the sentence flowing in the overall lyricism that well-crafted long sentences create. The construction of her sentences with poetic devices such as alliteration make the book a lullaby through the stream of loss, sorrow and hope she articulates. Even translated from French to English, melodic poetic devices carry the prose, the translation a work of art.
The vignettes through Ru cover humorous moments in Montreal, scenes that evoke pathos as the narrator’s father proudly wears a woman’s hand-me-down sweater, the kindness of Canadians treating the narrator’s family to trips to the zoo and other outings twice in one weekend, the hard work of picking crops in fields and doing menial labour with a positive attitude to rebuild a life in Canada, the narrator’s parents taking any low paying job they could with a sense of service to their children’s futures, all told in a lyrical lullaby, a soothing song of life. From the gentleness in the telling of people falling off the sides of the boats from Vietnam and disappearing in the ocean to first impressions of snowy Quebec, “After such a long time in places without light, a landscape so white, so virginal could only dazzle us, blind us, intoxicate us,” the lullaby tone of Ru offers hope of restoration of life, peace and the loss of language and therefore intergenerational cultural connection through colonialism, what struggles to be communicated from Vietnamese into French separating generations, with a musicality that reaches across those aching chasms.
As someone who loves long sentences where phrases and dependent clauses flow in poetic harmony, I especially love the style Thúy uses to construct her lullaby, an understated acceptance of sorrow in luring, safe rhythms, an affirmation that we are allowed to speak softly regardless of subject matter.

*See Cynthia’s revisiting of Rob Taylor’s The News here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Saigon in 1968, Kim Thúy left Vietnam with the boat people at the age of ten and settled with her family in Quebec. A graduate in translation and law, she has worked as a seamstress, interpreter, lawyer, restaurant owner, media personality and television host. She lives in Montreal and devotes herself to writing. Kim Thúy has received many awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2010, and was one of the top 4 finalists of the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2018. Her books have sold more than 850,000 copies around the world and have been translated into 29 languages and distributed across 40 countries and territories.

Sheila Fischman is the award-winning translator of some 150 contemporary novels from Quebec. In 2008 she was awarded the Molson Prize in the Arts. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and a chevalier de l’Ordre national du Québec. She lives in Montreal.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vintage Canada (March 25 2015)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0345816145
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0345816146

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Cynthia Sharp
Some Rights Reserved  

The Running Trees by Amber McMillan

One of the things that people say in reviews to indicate that a book is special, or singular, or you should read it because it holds up a mirror to our current cultural moment, or the author is speaking for a generation, or something like that. And while I personally try to avoid such broad brushes when I talk about books, I finished the first story of The Running Trees by Amber McMillan, and went, “This is so very clearly about now,” and I loved it. I think, in many ways, both conscious and not, a lot of people have been searching for narratives that describe the world they’re sitting in right now – COVID-19 has given a lot of us a lot more time to think, and it’s hard to find work which is so clearly of this particular moment but doesn’t also dwell on COVID-19 when we’re still in the middle of it. This is a strange recommendation, but the reason why I liked The Running Trees so much is that it was so spot on with its depictions of contemporary situations. None of the stories in the collection are trying to do anything grand, they simply provide a slice of average life in a Western country in the twenty-first century. And each of them sucked me in completely.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

McMillan labelled each of the stories as “Conversation #X”, followed by more descriptive titles. Each story is a scrap of something we’re invited to eavesdrop on, written as monologues, stories, and scripts, bringing us into the small day-to-day happenings. Each story is truly short and immensely digestible, from “The Dinner Party,” where the narrator feels out of place in her older boyfriend’s life, to the three scripts following a book club that meets to discuss a memoir set in their town, to another script in which a cat tells his life story. They’re all markedly different, but what makes this collection work so well and remain so cohesive is the framing of each of them, which is consistent throughout: conversations we, the readers, are overhearing.

This is such a masterful, tightly written short story collection, and unique in its voice and formatting. McMillan turns the mundane into wry, lovable tales, with images that stick with you long after you’ve finished the stories. I’ve been thinking about each of these stories over and over again since I finished them a week ago (at the time of writing this), and to me, that’s the mark of a true favourite: the stories that stick. The Running Trees, with people, cats, and imagine conversations, was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amber McMillan is the author of the memoir The Woods: A Year on Protection Island and the poetry collection We Can’t Ever Do This Again. Her work has also appeared in PRISM internationalArc Poetry Magazine, and the Walrus. She lives in Fredericton.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Goose Lane Editions (Sept. 7 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773101692
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773101699

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/37DLt6A

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Dig by Terry Doyle

There’s been a recent burst of imaginative fiction writing coming out of Newfoundland, and Terry Doyle’s collection of twelve short stories has been eagerly anticipated since he won the Percy Janes First Novel Award in 2017 for Union, an as-yet unpublished manuscript. Dig is what I would refer to as “contemporary fiction” in that it deals with the here and now, not the past and certainly not the future, for Mr. Doyle’s characters don’t really have any reason to look further ahead than tomorrow. While the stories are written in a stark, very true way, they are not raw or offensive by any means; just slices of life in the day-to-day reality of struggling, out-of-work, looking-for-work, issue-laden denizens of a city.

“While the stories in DIG are written in a stark, very true way, they are not raw or offensive by any means; just slices of life in the day-to-day reality of struggling, out-of-work, looking-for-work, issue-laden denizens of a city.”

I’m going to be up-front and say I wasn’t overly impressed by Dig. While I cannot find any fault with Mr. Doyle’s writing style, it had more to do with the brevity of the stories. I couldn’t help but feel they were written with Millenials and Gen Next-ers in mind whose short attention spans do not allow them to be away from their smartphone screens for more than fifteen or twenty minutes. In fact, I read Dig in a few hours.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy any of the stories. Quite the opposite, I found several to be to my liking including Hammerhead, about a man with a small after-hours vendetta against vehicles blocking sidewalks and Keeping That are You? about a man who inventively strives to make enough money to keep his truck payments current and support him and his wife (who scolds him for bringing some of the junk he collects home).

The next day Ryan got a call from a man who said he had a load of furniture and trash he needed taken to the dump. Among the furniture there was an antique-looking lamp. When the man wasn’t watching, Ryan laid the lamp on the floor by the gas pedal. There was also an old painting with a hole through the center. He tucked it between two end tables so it wouldn’t get damaged. The frame was still good.

The man came out of his house carrying two dining chairs. The bed of the truck was full. Ryan opened the passenger-side door and laid the two chairs in. The man spotted the lamp.

“Keeping that, are you?”

Ryan closed the door and removed his hat.

“I don’t care,” the man said. “Keep what you like, just get rid of the rest of it.” He handed Ryan two twenties and two fives.

With his “finds” the ever-enterprising Ryan rents a table at a flea market and sells the items he keeps.

Although I may not have been enthralled by Dig, many readers will love the stories and while it is written by a Newfoundlander and the stories are set in St. John’s, they don’t have a strong sense of place. They could be set anywhere, really. I’m adding Dig to my Summer Reads category.

“The stories in DIG offer assured, evocative, loving renditions of the gritty, everyday world of work and family, but are so deftly and delicately written they seem to float.”— Colin Barrett, author of Young Skins and winner of the Guardian First Book Award

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (a Kindle version is also available) through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2QhtaKX Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved